Ten infamous islands of exile

Match the ten islands (A-J) and the notes below (1-10). Write your answers on a piece of paper.


Established to banish dissidents and criminals, these islands are known for their one-time prisoners, from Napoleon to Nelson Mandela.

A. Patmos, Greece

A tiny, mountainous speck in the Aegean Sea, the 13-square-mile island of Patmos is where, according to Christian tradition, St. John was exiled in 95 CE after being persecuted for his faith by the Romans and where he wrote his Gospel and the Book of Revelation.

B. Sado Island, Japan

More than 70 people—notably aristocrats and artists—were exiled here, beginning in 722 CE with the poet Asomioyu Hozumi, who criticized the emperor. Other exiles included the Emperor Juntoku, who attempted a coup against the Kamakura shogunate in 1220, and the monk Nichiren in 1271, who preached a radical form of Buddhism.

C. Île Sainte-Marguerite, France

The small, forested island was home to one of history’s most enigmatic prisoners. The convict, whose identity was concealed behind what was most likely a black velvet mask, was brought to the island in 1687, during the reign of Louis XIV. His identity and the reason for his incarceration are still not known. One popular theory, that he was an older brother of Louis XIV, became the basis for Alexander Dumas’ classic tale The Man in the Iron Mask.

D. Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile

In 1704, British privateer Alexander Selkirk was marooned here after quarrelling with the captain of his ship. He lived alone on the rugged island for more than four years, subsisting on fish, lobster, goats and seals, until he was rescued by a passing ship in 1709. His ordeal is believed to have been the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. The island was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

E. Devil’s Island, French Guiana

Napoleon III established the penal colony in 1854, and some 80,000 French convicts—criminals, spies and political prisoners—were sent there before it closed in 1938. Most of the convicts were assigned to hard labour. An estimated 50,000 inmates died. The most famous of the prisoners was Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, who, wrongly convicted of treason, spent four and a half years there in solitary confinement, from 1895 to 1899.

F. St. Helena

Located in the middle of the South Atlantic, 1,200 miles from Angola and 1,800 miles from Brazil, the island of St. Helena is among the most remote places on earth. This detail was not lost on the British, who sent Napoleon into exile here following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He passed the time reading, gardening and dictating his memoirs. He died on St. Helena in 1821 at age 51.

G. Coiba Island, Panama

Surrounded by shark-infested waters, it was established in 1919 as a penal colony for Panama’s most dangerous criminals. Political dissidents were sent there under the military dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. Human-rights groups frequently reported on the harsh conditions of the penal colony, including incidents of torture and murder. The penal colony was shut down in 2004.

H. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Between 1946 and 1959, the Ecuadorean government used 1,790-square-mile Isabela, the largest island in the Galápagos chain, as an agriculture and penal colony. Some 300 prisoners—hardened criminals and political dissidents—were incarcerated there under extremely harsh conditions. Guards ordered them to build a wall out of lava rocks brought from a distant crater—a wall that served no purpose.

I. Robben Island, South Africa

Robben Island has been a place of exile for most of the past 400 years. It was used as a political prison for non-white opponents of the apartheid regime from 1960 to 1991. Many well-known dissidents—Nelson Mandela among them—were incarcerated here under brutal conditions, enduring beatings, harassment and forced labour in the island’s lime quarries.

J. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California

The small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay was the site of one of the United States’ most feared prisons. A total of 1,545 people were incarcerated there in its nearly three decades of operation, including Al Capone. As the prison was surrounded by frigid waters with treacherous currents, escape attempts were few. Of the 34 people who tried, most were recaptured or killed. Alcatraz closed in 1963.


  1. Around five-eighths of the prisoners died on this prison island.
    (E) Devil’s Island, French Guiana
  2. Only a minority of prisoners who tried to get away were successful.
    (J) Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
  3. Prisoners trying to escape from this island may have got eaten.
    (G) Coiba Island, Panama
  4. Two famous people were sent here in the thirteenth century.
    (B) Sado Island, Japan
  5. Prisoners here had to do pointless work.
    (H) Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  6. This island was chosen because it was so far away from anywhere.
    (F) St. Helena
  7. Some people believe a holy man was sent here.
    (A) Patmos, Greece
  8. This island is named after a character in a novel.
    (D) Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile
  9. A racist government imprisoned people here.
    (I) Robben Island, South Africa
  10. A mysterious man was kept here.
    (C) Île Sainte-Marguerite, France


Larkins, K. (2010) ‘Ten infamous islands of exile’,, 23 July. Available at: (Accessed: 25 September 2013).